I was making my way through the perpetually bustling Shanghai Metro subway system when I spotted an elderly woman struggling to carry a heavy shopping bag up a flight of stairs in an area with no escalator. I gestured to her that I wanted to help. She smiled and let me take her bag upwards. At the top of the staircase I gave it back to her, as she asked me “Ni láizì năge guójiā?” (“Which country are you from?”). I replied in my scant Chinese, “Měiguó” (“America”). She grinned broadly and said in Mandarin, “Americans are always so polite.” It really made my day. It was an honor to help this nice lady and also be able to somehow represent my home country. At that particular place, at that specific moment, I was the “ambassador” of over 300 million people.
Ambassadors do not only exist in state departments, embassies and the United Nations. We are all ambassadors. Ambassadors of ourselves, our families, our communities, our nations, and perhaps most importantly, of humanity.
When we go to another city, we are ambassadors of our hometown. When we go to another state, we are ambassadors of our home state, and when we go to another country, we are ambassadors of our nation. We may be just one of hundreds, thousands or even millions of our countryfolk to visit a certain place, but one’s personal interactions with locals can have an enormous impact on how they perceive our homeland.
In my journeys to over 70 countries, I have been to faraway lands where I have met local villagers in isolated regions, perhaps very well being the only person from America that they have ever met – or will ever meet – in their lives. I singlehandedly could influence a person’s view of a whole nation, an entire people. I am an emissary. I am a representative. I am an ambassador.
It is an enormous responsibility - and one that I take very seriously.